Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Vulcan milestones

Catapulting Aaron's recent success in landing his first Vulcan got me thinking about the Vulcan a bit. Working on the Vulcan is not really high on my list - it's behind getting dialed in on my new Fanatic Skate, the speed loop (since it's supposed to be a lot easier than the Vulcan), getting started with wave sailing during our upcoming Maui trip, and then learning to survive (and maybe jump & jibe) in the Gorge in June. All of these things are rather different from my usual big gear-flat water blasting, so I see some work ahead of me. But it does not hurt to think about the next thing afterwards.

I had posted before about perhaps learning the Flaka or the Grubby before the Vulcan. During my recent Bonaire trip, the wind did not quite play along, so I did not really get to try any (perhaps the fact that I'm not 20 anymore also contributed). Andy Brandt did not like the idea at all - funny enough since he did his first speed loop when practicing for a Grubby. I understand some of the arguments against "Flaka first":
  1. Some windsurfers find learning the Flaka hard (even the Tricktionary says so).
  2. Falls can be harder (as someone pointed out in the iWindsurf forum discussion, the falls on the Tricktionary DVD look much harder than the Vulcan falls, partially because you fall forward onto the rig).
  3. The jump may be more difficult, since you have to turn the nose further (into/through the wind after going deep downwind to reduce the apparent wind).
All that said, one thing that really impressed me during my recent Bonaire trip was a "slow motion" Flaka right near the beach by one of the beautiful blondes. She had to pump to get planing, popped the board barely out of the water, turned the nose maybe 45 degrees in the jump, and then pushed the board around the rest of the way, which seemed to take several seconds. I think the surfer was Xenia Kessler, who can do perfectly fine "regular" Flakas as seen on her recent video, but I'm not sure. Watching her gave me the impression that there may be a not-so-dramatic way to learn the Flaka.

I'll probably try it sometime, but common wisdom is that the Vulcan is the first pop-and-slide trick to learn, so I'll have to check that out, too. The idea of lower-speed falls going backward out of the straps onto my butt, as opposed to high-speed forward falls into the equipment, has a certain appeal. However, I have to admit that I have a mental block when it comes to learning something that may take 500 to 2,000 tries to get. As Catapulting Aaron has pointed out correctly, planing through my first jibe probably took way more than 2,000 tries. But with the jibe, there were plenty of successes in between: the first dry jibe, the first jibe with a decent sail flip, the first times with a nice hand switch, keeping more and more speed, jibing dry most of the time, and so on.

So, to make the Vulcan more appealing, I need milestones. Based on what I read and heard, here is my initial set of Vulcan milestones:
  1. Sailing a freestyle board with a small fin comfortably.
  2. Chop-hops with board control in the air and decent landings (this may be optional, but I think it helps).
  3. Popping the board in small chop or flat water.
  4. Nose-first landings after pops (or chop hops).
  5. Getting the board to turn after the pop. The initial goal is a 90 degree turn.
  6. Turning the board into the correct position for a backward slide (180 degrees, or perhaps a bit less for far downwind takeoffs).
  7. Sliding backward a bit.
  8. Sliding backwards comfortably and in control.
  9. Switching hands to the other side of the boom while in the air (I'm a bit fuzzy about this).
  10. Getting a hold of the new side of the boom while sliding backwards.
The last step is close to sailing out the Vulcan dry. The steps are not necessary in perfect order - working on the hand/rig movements can probably start soon after turning the board in the air looks promising. I listed the steps in this order because the order in the Grubby would be very similar - except that steps 9 and 10 would be different.

So - what good are these milestones? Well, they encourage me a lot. Instead of 1,000 tries, most likely spread out over 2 or more years, I can hope to accomplish a new milestone in maybe 100 tries. With 20-25 tries per session, I can learn a new skill in 4 or 5 sessions. Of course, some of these will be much harder than others and require more tries, but still, the same principle applies.

There's an immediate application, as I will illustrate. After my Bonaire trip this year, I was a bit frustrated because I did not see any definitive progress in high winds. In my first Bonaire clinic, I has finally managed to plane through my jibes on a regular basis; in my second clinic, I polished that, worked on Duck jibes, and got the fall/slam jibe. This year, I worked a couple of session on harder tricks did not quite make them. But in addition, I worked on the first three milestones in the list above. The first one was easy, since freestyle boards are very easy to sail - still, it took a session or two to adjust, and another session when switching to a different board. Still, #1 is done. Since we stayed mostly on the flat side of the bay, work on #2 was limited, but I had done some before. I spend most of 2 sessions on #3, and got the pop to work reasonably well on one side. I will need to adjust the timing to my new board, but that's just a good session or two. So the logical goal for the next few sessions is to work on #2, 3, and 4 - chop hops, pops, and nose landings. All useful skills, anyway, even if I should decide not to focus on the Vulcan right now.

Well, this is all theory. I'd love to hear from others who have progressed further on the Vulcan learning curve what you think. Please post a comment here, or on the "Vulcan milestones?" post on the iWindsurf forum.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fanatic Skate - first impressions

We went and surfed our new Fanatic Skates today for the first time in Duxbury. Wind was about 18-20 mph from N to NE, a great direction. My wife was used a 5.5 on her 100 l Skate, I used a 7.0 on my 110 l. It was a great, sunny day.

The biggest difference to our other boards is the fin size. Our freeride boards have large fins - 39 and 44 cm are typical, the Kona even has a 56 cm fin. That means riding the fin will get you going - not so on the Skate, as the picture shows:

The 24 cm freestyle fin is tiny, made for spinning and sliding, not for pushing the board onto a plane.

So naturally, the events in the little video clip below would be expected:

Actually, I did not really have problems with spinouts - the one on the video is one of maybe three I had in more than 2 hours of surfing. And as the video shows, recovery from spinouts was really easy. It did, of course, help to have Andy Brandt's tips about how to surf a freestyle board in the back of my head (sink the windward rail, keep the sail further forward than on a freeride board).

Not much difference there. Schlogging & planing was just as easy as on boards with 10 or 20 l more volume that I had surfed for years and was really familiar with. In other words: amazing how easy it was to get dialed in on the Skate!

Both wind and water temps were a bit low (near 50 Fahrenheit, or 10 Celsius), so I did not try anything fancy - mostly, I just enjoyed the ride. I had GPS on, and got a top speed of 43 kmh (28 mph) - that's very good, since the wind was below 40 km even in the gusts, and I did not even go deep downwind or to really flat water.

I'll have to work a bit on tacking the board - like all boards under 120 l, it loves to sink the nose unless I am planing really fast. Here's a clip with a tack:

I was pretty amazed on how well I could turn the board when the nose was under water, and how easy it was to get the compact shape back up. I'm definitely sold on compact boards (the Skate 110 is 237 cm short).

Finally, jibing: the boards jibe like the dream. The winds were a bit marginal, we sometimes had problems planing, and I'm a bit rusty after focusing on other stuff this year in Bonaire. Still, the vast majority of my jibes were dry, and kept at least a bit of speed. Here's an example where the clew-mounted GoPro Hero HD caught the sun during the jibe in a neat way:

Yes, I know - the setup was poor and hasty, the arms not straight - but hey, I need something to work on in my second session on the board, too, right?

Another great day of sailing - using the Fanatic Skates for freeriding worked amazingly well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How I got hooked

I recently read a bunch of blog and forum posts on how various surfers got hooked to windsurfing. Because I found these stories rather interesting to read, and because I just heard from some surfers that they read and like my blog, I figured I'd tell the story how I got started.

It happened when I was an undergrad at the University of Konstanz. Konstanz is a small city in southern Germany, at the border to Switzerland. The university had a sports department which included watersports - sailing and windsurfing. It was just a 5 minute walk from the university to "Wassersportgelaende" (water sports area) at Lake Constance (Bodensee), the third-largest lake in Europe. Now this was a very attractive place - great for swimming and sun bathing, and frequent visits by gorgeous sports students and the facts that clothing was optional did not hurt, either.

The university offered windsurfing classes for a nominal fee. It looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up, and learned on original Windsurfers, Windgliders, and HiFly boards. We used 5 m triangle sails with 8 ft wood booms; it took a day just to learn how to stand on the boards and pull the heavy rigg out of the water. Lots of fun, though. After 3 days of classes and a test, you could rent equipment and wet suits for a couple of bucks per hour, and go practice. The wind was usually light in the summer. But every now and then, we'd get a bit more wind before a storm, and start planing until the daggerboard or a sudden turn in wind direction would through us into the water. On the lighter air days, one of the fun things to do was "skinny surfing" across the bay to the isle of Mainau, and show the shocked tourists that you don't even need speedos to windsurf. Ok, that got boring after a couple of times, so a few of us went on to light wind tricks like sailing in the boom, sail 360s, and so on.

I have to say that the recreational sports department at the university was great. In addition to windsurfing, they offered regular sailing lessons on a few small sailboats, rock climbing classes, and ski trips during the winter and spring (all fun). They had a few little races for windsurfers - I remember placing second or third in the "beginner" category in one, after falling during a tack. Better yet, they offered trips to the Lake Como in Italy to teach high-wind lessons. I remember one trip where one of the participants had brought a much-admired brand new board: it had a pin tail (instead of the square tail that all other boards had), and a dagger board that could be tilted back and completely disappeared inside the board - very exciting innovations! Well, back then even the harness was still pretty new. We used chest harnesses with a tiny hook plate, which really constricted your lungs after a while. Spreader bars and seat harnesses came a few years later...

Another fun thing from around that time were the dedicated low-wind boards that were shaped like a sail boat at the bottom - more or less completely round, which made just standing on them a major balancing act. But sailing upwind on these things in 2 Beaufort was kind of magical.

Well, gotta go now. Maybe next time I tell the story how the university helped me build my own windsurf board that I sailed for more than 10 years, and about that great day in Tarifa 28 years ago :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great day in Kalmus

Just came back from a great day of sailing in Kalmus. The wind was a bit weird - not gusty, but with pronounced variation over longer periods. Here's the wind graph:

We sailed from about 11:30 to 2:30, with a couple of longer breaks. It was high tide when we started, which gave some nice chop together with the 25 mph SW wind. Funny how much more difficult everything gets when conditions are different from normal - we usually sail flat water in less wind, so this definitely needed some getting used to. I was nicely powered with a 5.5 Matrix (first time on it, nice sail) and my small board (JP 96). My wife was on a 4.2 on her 116 l Screamer with a 39 cm fin. She got quite a few comments on the large sizes, since everyone else was out on small wave or freestyle boards. She did quite a few involuntary jumps, too. But when the wind calmed down later, she was often the only one planing and going upwind. If only I could loose 60 pounds, maybe I can keep up with her ...

I tried the WindMeter iPhone app today. Like the Peconic Puffin, I found it to be rather accurate. It was showing 25-26 mph when the iWindsurf reading was about the same. Had to hold it up for longer than I thought (maybe half a minute) for the reading to go up, though.

While on my small board, I played a bit with the chop, which at points was pretty close to breaking waves. Looked at the GPS tracks later, and did not see any of the turns. Perhaps it's time to check out a ShadowBox? Nice marketing thing they did with the highest backloop contest - love the videos.

Looking at my GPS results from last years technology, I noticed that I got my best speeds near the end, after switching to a 7.0 sail and a 120 l board, and sometimes having to pump to get planing. The chop had gone down quite a bit by then, which is probably why I was going faster.

It was nice to see a few windsurfers show up - there were usually 3-5 surfers on the water, plus a few kiters. Very nice to see Martin from the Cape Cod camp again. He missed the good wind, but worked on his heli tacks and other light wind stuff - because every day of sailing is a great day of sailing!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sail size application for iPhone

Which sail should I use today - why not ask your iPhone? SailSize, a free iPhone application, lets you enter your weight and the current wind, and calculates what sail size you need to get planing.

Sail size for iPhone
Calculations should be accurate since they are based on James Douglass' sail size spreadsheet. Available for free at the iTunes store. (And no, this is not an April Fools Day joke!)